Editor’s Note: I don’t know about you but I find Dianna’s posts so fascinating. In My Local Roots, Dianna gives us a peek into her past and a little homesteading history. Test will be on Friday. -Christina
The first cook book I ever bought was Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet. I pretty much never used it because it was too fussy, too virtuous and the recipes were not tasty enough. I think I gave it to a library book sale years ago. But my other hippie how-to book from that era, Living the Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing, still has a place on my shelf . The Nearings were the parents of the 1960’s simple life movement. Their book changed the trajectory of my life.
I was a grad student in Chicago in 1983 when I read Scott Nearing’s obituary in the Tribune. (He died three weeks after he decided to stop eating on his 100th birthday. Helen died in 1995 at the age of 91 in a car accident.) I was working on a biology Ph.D., utterly hating grad school (for a taste of grad school in biology click here) and thinking vaguely of farming and writing instead, so I decided to take a look at their book, which was mostly about farming and writing. I was blown away. They worked four hours a day doing “bread labor” on their homestead, that is, gardening, house building, wood gathering, repairs, and had the rest of each day available for life of mind. Thereafter, I convinced my very urban husband, then a resident at Cook County Hospital, to run away to the countryside with me. We left Chicago in 1985 and moved to upstate New York to quasi homestead on a 16-acre remnant farmette with a rotting barn and a crumbling 18-room, 150-year-old mansion with one bathroom. We heated with wood. It was fun while it lasted, which was until our children hit adolescence and couldn’t stand it anymore. Significantly, the Nearings did not have children.
I don’t homestead now, but I still use Helen Nearing’s cookbook, Simple Food for the Good Life, An Alternative Cook Book with a Collection of Easy Vegetarian Recipes that have Evolved From Necessity or Available Garden Produce. Her recipes are made from seasonal foods she grew or bought in bulk. She was a reluctant cook so she made her food with as little effort as possible. She avoided adulteration and did not mess with things that took lots of time. While I have not achieved Helen Nearing’s disinterested perfection, I thumb through her cook book whenever I have too much garden produce on hand, thinking things like “I should really stop eating chocolate,” and “why don’t I make wheat berries once in awhile?” I salute her memory every time I make a raw carrot salad or soup from my garden.
If you are aiming to be a locavore or a vegetarian or to eat more sustainably, I highly recommend Helen Nearing’s weird old cook book to you. Here is a Nearing-inspired recipe, slightly modified for more flavor:
Turnips and Apples
5 small turnips, peeled and cubed
1 cup boiling water
3 tart apples, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon brandy (Helen Nearing never used brandy, I just like it and life is short)
Simmer turnips in boiling water while peeling and cubing apples. Simmer both together until tender. Add rest of ingredients, simmer for two more minutes, then serve. The idea is you can make it up as you go based on what you have on hand. And never eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.